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7 Best Practices for Working Across Time Zones

Employees working across time zones on a video conference

Quick look: Hiring employees from various regions can enable small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) to access a larger talent pool, a more skilled and diverse staff, and potential cost savings. However, working across time zones can present many challenges, whether those issues involve collaboration, culture, or compliance. Here’s what employers need to know to succeed and reap all the benefits of a dispersed workforce.

There has never been a more interesting and challenging time for human resources (HR) professionals. More employees than ever are working from home either full-time or part of the time – a trend that emerged suddenly during the pandemic and required businesses to quickly pivot operations to accommodate this now-permanent hybrid switch.

Many business leaders are re-calibrating and tailoring their operations to best support a dispersed workforce. Here we’ll explore several tips for SMB leaders and managers to accommodate employees working across time zones.

Diving into a dispersed workforce

A lot of people work from home – 59% of U.S. workers who say their jobs can be performed from home do so all or most of the time – and that comes with many benefits for employers and employees alike.

For employees, remote work can result in boosted productivity, a healthier work-life balance, and significant cost savings. Research firm Global Workplace Analytics estimates that workers save between $600 and $6,000 per year by working from home at least half of the time. These savings are primarily due to reduced costs for gas, parking, car maintenance, and food.

The savings extend to SMBs, too. The same firm found that employers can save over $11,000 per year per remote employee due to lowered office space costs, increased productivity, reduced absenteeism, and less turnover. A dispersed workforce can also allow employers to:

How to succeed working across time zones

The benefits of remote work are clear but it doesn’t come without challenges. Without the right strategy in place, a dispersed workforce can result in reduced collaboration, employee burnout, increased compliance risk, and more. The following best practices will help SMB employers navigate these challenges and reap all the benefits of remote work.

1. Talk time – all the time

With employees working in multiple time zones, it’s crucial to discuss differing schedules openly and regularly. If a large portion of the company works in different regions, everyone should put their time zone and preferred working hours in their email signature as well as in their status on the business’ collaboration platform of choice (i.e. Microsoft Teams or Slack).

This communication should start right away. During onboarding, managers should confirm new hires’ working hours and understand exactly when they’ll be available. If the new hire is in a different time zone than the manager, it’s critical for the manager to clearly lay out all applicable goals, expectations, and priorities.

When it comes to delegating assignments, managers should always clearly communicate deadlines and explicitly state both their and the employee’s time zone to eliminate any confusion. For example, a manager may ask their team member to complete a task by Friday at 9 AM EST / 8 AM CT. This level of clarity should also be used when scheduling meetings.

Time zone differences should be top of mind when sending messages and waiting for assignments to be completed, as well. Before pressing the send button on an email or instant message, employees should consider the recipient’s time zone – are you accidentally sending a message to someone at 11:00 PM? Additionally, managers may need to tack an extra day or two onto deadlines for employees in different time zones; those workers may not receive a request and be able to start working on a task until the next day.

2. Check in

It’s always important for managers to keep in touch with their teams, but this is especially true when workers are spread across the country or globally.

Managers of dispersed teams should make a conscious effort to check in regularly and connect with individual team members as well as the group as a whole. These meetings not only improve the relationships between specific colleagues, but also contribute to maintaining team cohesion.

Remote work can feel isolating – according to Buffer’s State of Remote Work 2021 report, 16% of remote workers say loneliness is their biggest workplace struggle. Routinely chatting (with the camera on) can help managers maintain awareness of their team’s mental health and workload. For example, if a manager detects an employee’s tone and body language have shifted negatively, they can politely and privately ask if the worker is okay and if there’s anything they can do to help.

3. Master meeting etiquette

Undoubtedly, one of the trickiest parts of working across time zones is scheduling meetings. If all meeting participants aren’t on the same page in terms of when the meeting will occur, some people could miss or be late to the meeting, wasting everyone’s time (and the company’s money).

Here are some helpful tips on seamlessly scheduling meetings when a dispersed workforce is involved:

  • Specify the time zone in which the meeting will occur in all meeting invites.

  • Be mindful of others’ time zones – avoid scheduling meetings that would be very early or very late for someone (i.e. if you’re on the East Coast but have colleagues in California, try not to schedule a meeting that will occur at 5:00 AM on the West Coast).

  • Consider designating “core meeting hours” if there is a block of time when all employees are on-the-clock and available to collaborate.

  • Switch it up – if there’s a recurring team meeting, consider changing the time every now and then so the same employees aren’t continuously inconvenienced.

  • Use a shared calendar that shows each team member’s availability at a glance, so colleagues can easily book meetings during mutually free times.

  • Record meetings that occur at a time when employees in certain time zones cannot attend. Sometimes large meetings and formal company announcements do not accommodate everyone’s schedule. Sharing a meeting recording keeps the entire staff in the loop without infringing on anyone’s personal time.

4. Cultivate your culture

Even if they reside in a different area, employees want to feel connected to their employer. The threat of a diminished company culture is real, and many remote workers fear they’ll be left out or overlooked for professional opportunities. But there are ways SMB leaders can strengthen their remote culture and keep everyone happy.

To start, companies should clearly and frequently communicate their purpose – employees want to know that they’re a part of an important and fulfilling mission. Additionally, during a time when the workforce is prone to burnout, an emphasis should be put on caring about each other’s mental wellbeing. And with 94% of employees reporting that they’d stay longer at a company if it invested in their careers, providing virtual mentoring opportunities can also be beneficial.

Examples of tactics for accomplishing these cultural goals include:

  • Hosting virtual team building events, like icebreakers, games, happy hours, etc.
  • Establishing a virtual mentorship program, or tailoring your existing program to better include remote employees
  • Recognizing and rewarding employees for their achievements on virtual meetings
  • Developing an inclusive holiday policy that allows workers to take off holidays in their home country (instead of just the holidays in the country where the company is headquartered)

5. Communication

Communication is critical when it comes to working across time zones. SMB leaders should be mindful about choosing the communication methods that work best for their company overall, and managers should do the same when it comes to how best to communicate with their individual teams.

Certain etiquette should also be followed in terms of communication while working across time zones. Unless there’s an urgent situation, employees should avoid contacting colleagues when they’re outside of their working hours. While it may be the middle of the day for one worker, it may be midnight for another, and frequently sending work messages at an inconvenient hour can result in burnout and stress. Likewise, employees should inform their manager and teammates about the best way to reach them outside of working hours if an emergency arises.

6. Embrace technology

The cornerstone of remote work is technology and it can do a lot more than just enable employees to log in and jump on video calls.

On-the-fly collaboration tends to occur less frequently when working across time zones, but the right tools can change that. For example, implementing a virtual project management platform can help teams coordinate assignments, track individuals’ progress on tasks, and boost overall efficiency.

Hosting an open virtual meeting meant to replicate an office breakroom can also be fruitful. Everyone should be invited to voluntarily join the meeting room at a time that works for them. This sort of impromptu, off-the-cuff discussion can resemble “watercooler chat” and enables colleagues to brainstorm various topics and connect on a more personal level.

Lastly, SMBs should utilize a company intranet site. The site should serve as a common ground that announces company-wide news and information including birthdays, work anniversaries, organizational charts, company calendars, benefits updates, and more.

7. Stay on top of taxes and compliance

When considering candidates from different regions than where the company is based, SMB leaders must review how their taxes, payroll, compliance, recruiting, and benefits may be affected. For example, if employees are working in a different state than where the business is located, employers may be responsible for paying additional taxes like state unemployment tax, city taxes, school district taxes, and workers’ compensation taxes.

In addition to remaining aware of applicable tax laws, SMB employers must also consider other state requirements including:

  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
  • Anti-discrimination laws
  • Daily overtime limitations
  • Non-compete agreement enforceability
  • Paid time off (PTO) and sick pay
  • And more

All the benefits of a distributed workforce – with none of the headache

Running a small business means you have a lot on your plate – especially when you’re trying to figure out the best way to hire a dispersed workforce and work across time zones. Handing the headache over to a professional employer organization (PEO), like ExtensisHR, can help.

PEOs are available to assist with every aspect of acquiring and managing a remote workforce. From recruiting top talent and developing relevant HR policies, to managing payroll and tax and proactively addressing risk and compliance issues, PEOs make it easy to get back to your priorities and enjoy the benefits of a happy, productive, dispersed staff.

The HR pros at ExtensisHR are here to help optimize your ever-growing workforce – contact us today to get started.

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